Anyone educated in the West can rattle off the names of innumerable famous authors: Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Virginia Wolff, John Steinbeck, Emily Dickinson, William Faulkner, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou—the list is endless. All of these authors wrote in English, but we could expand the list without problem to include authors whose works have been translated into English: Leo Tolstoy, Franz Kafka, Victor Hugo, Gabriel García Márquez, Isabel Allende, Jorge Borges, Umberto Eco. What if the list were expanded to include famous Asian writers? Perhaps you know Shūsaku Endō, author of Silence (the basis of Martin Scorcese’s film) or Haruki Murakami, a contemporary Japanese bestselling author. What if we turn to sub-Saharan Africa? Some of you will undoubtedly know Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, but have you read any other books by African writers?
In this issue of Voices de la Luna, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the independence of Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to break free from its colonial ruler, we tell a little bit of the story of postcolonial African literature as it emerged in the wake of the wave of independence declarations that followed Ghana’s. We also review reactions to the “scramble for Africa” that led to the European conquest of most of the continent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Our cover art also reflects the African experience: the artist who produced it is Naomi Wanjiku Gakunga, a native of Nairobi, Kenya, and current resident of San Antonio.
We are honored to have Joe Jiménez, a local award-winning poet, as our featured poet in this issue. His poems combine strength, rawness, and tenderness in a way that touches the reader on multiple levels. We also interview Nan Cuba, founder of Gemini Ink, award-winning author, and writer-in-residence at Our Lady of the Lake University. She talks about writing, teaching, and even a little about her days as an investigative journalist. Joining these writers are poets and writers of short fiction, some well-known and some not-yet-known. There are paeans to a mother, to a tree, to flowers, and to Frida Kahlo. Particularly notable in this issue are poems by the winners of our third annual HEB/Voices de la Luna Youth Poetry Contest. The Stone in the Stream group challenges readers to consider the impact of “improvements” to the environment, as does noted biologist E. O. Wilson, whose recent book is reviewed on p. 10. We have a short story about a radio call-in show and another about a Lakota federal agent dealing with tragedy. Meanwhile, writer Paul Juhasz still finds himself bewildered in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse.
Since spring is approaching, I want to end with an excerpt from a poem hailing the arrival of dawn by Phillis Wheatley, captured as a young girl in West Africa and sold into slavery in colonial Boston. The full poem is on p. 19.
See in the east th’ illustrious king of day! His rising radiance drives the shades away— But Oh! I feel his fervid beams too strong, And scarce begun, concludes th’ abortive song.
Although Wheatley was writing in Boston, we here in South Texas will feel “his fervid beams too strong” sooner than we would like to think about it. Enjoy the winter edition of Voices!
There is a quandary. A mare’s nest inside me, quagmire of atoms and fixations. To be solved, or stalled, or turned to red slough, who can say—? and Is it even there? If I summon its namesake, if I point and run my nose through dark twigs in its hair? In distance, the ripped bale, the hay-strewn field. Cattle egrets, the wedding sun—. Yesterday, I came to this field thinking it might fix me; in the box of my truckbed, I crossed my arms, lay down, stared at red centaurs in clouds. I wanted to be one. But wind had to tell me I don’t come from satyrs or centaurs but owls—. In this case, I have forgotten when trespassing is wrong. Before night, I built a wreath of coal and of hair, of logs, and of hay, unbridled, left to flow. I made fire. I was lonely. I asked God for birds, but He gave me a wheelbarrow of armadillo and horse bones, corn husk and mud. and What is it holding me back? Can I call it gloom? a doom-step of clocks and fence posts, fat cables, leather bits? All day I will sit on my tailgate, the field and the fire-wreath trying to keep inside me. In this case, I can no longer bolster any hoax with tenderness. In this case, I can no longer pretend I do not love the field, maybe more even than I love myself. Hands burnt, my boots sinking in mud, I say my mother was wrong, because I can’t find the wealth she said I would find in suffering. No, when does aguanto bloom?
Gunfire erupts. Chaos follows. Bullets are being shot at me From all sides. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to go. The screams drift into the sky Rising higher and higher, Searching for someone To hear them. Go! Leave! Hide! Where? I didn’t know where. The armed men appear From dust and begin to Grasp both my arms Tighter and tighter, Afraid I’ll go Like my sister had told me to. I never saw her again. They took me from my home. They took me when I was only 5. The white of their skin Still darker than my innocent soul had been.
I write myself into syllables and accents
because I am the subject I know best
Wear denial like a thrift-store blouse,
too comfortable to take off
Filter my negra into spanish and translate the bitter fruit
into something the world can swallow
I straighten my hair, dilute my rage,
and subdue the magic in my hands
I slept while men mis-stitched
the histories of me and my gods
I let self-hate lace me up
into colonial ivory linens
I lathered the almost whiteness
of coconut milk skin lotion
& I searched one day to find my limbs a litany
of hyphens surgically grafted to an improper place
a someone who wasn’t me
Then, with a compact mirror of tears
I made love to my reflection
and smudged myself anew
Repurposed the cocoa butter melanin
that anoints my skin and bone
I stopped snipping my African veins
with hemostat covered in blood
I crowned with two hearts beating
beneath a burnt blue-grey sage sky
& gave birth
to these two bodies
Till one blood ran into us both
The elm this year is a shade of gold I’ve never seen—sunlight distilled into oval coins intermingled with a few still green, refusing to let go of either even in the wet, whipping wind they cling as though the tree were trying to speak and hadn’t yet found the proper arrangement of words or limbs or leaves.